Appalachian Thursday – Pot-bellied Stoves

stoveI’ve written potbellied stoves into a couple of my stories. You’ll still find them plenty of places in Appalachia and I have direct experience with two.

Our one-room church had a potbellied stove on each side of the sanctuary. It was a deacon’s job to come to church early in the winter to get the coal fires going and knock the chill off the pews. Eventually we upgraded to gas heaters, but those stoves were plenty toasty!

As a matter of fact, they were HOT. We were strictly forbidden to mess with the stoves or even to get too close to them. Bump up against one and you’ll know why. But one Sunday I decided to get rid of my chewing gum by snatching open that little door in the side and throwing it in. And I did it bare-handed.

Suffice it to say it’s a VIVID memory and my parents thought the natural repercussions of my decision were punishment enough. That was a bad burn!

My second first-hand stove encounter was at my grandmother’s house. She had a stove in the front room that heated the four-square house (sitting room, kitchen/dining room, two bedrooms). The rule when visiting Grandma’s was to keep your shoes on.

Now, most farm folk know you take your shoes off when you come inside the house. We had a “shoe rug” where you parked your shoes when coming in. But at Grandma’s if you took your shoes off you’d soon have black socks. No matter how much you clean, if you have a coal stove for heat, there WILL be coal dust on the floor.

Here’s a snippet from The Sound of Rain that included a potbellied stove.

stove clip

And we have takeoff!

launch drinkWhile my latest story technically releases tomorrow, we held the launch party for it at Sassafras on Sutton–a wonderful bookstore in Black Mountain, NC–yesterday.

While I regularly speak in front of groups ranging from 10 to 200 for my job, talking about MY book to a group including MY friends is  a whole other kettle of fish.

At events like this I don’t get nervous about speaking but I do wonder if people will come. Will they enjoy themselves? Will they buy books? Are people just humoring me?!? (Or worse, NOT humoring me!)

But when I stood up in front of the groups and started sharing about Thurmond, WV, and this latest story (which I LOVE) all of those doubts melted away and I just had a really good time. And people DID buy books. And if they were humoring me at least it also benefited a really great local business.

PLUS, Carson, one of the store employees invented a drink just for my launch. Check out the sign pictured–yes, she drew a train on the board! I had one and it was delicious. An apple spice herbal tea sweetened with a froth of whole milk. Yum!

I’ll get to give my launch talk again at the Upshur County Public Library in my hometown of Buckhannon, WV, on Thursday, November 21, at 5:30 p.m. If you live in that area I hope you’ll come make it as much fun as this first one!

We have a winner!

books are hereI know Thursdays usually focus on something Appalachian, but hey, When Silence Sings is an Appalachian story, so that counts. Right?

Thanks to everyone who entered to win a copy of my sixth novel by sharing what you’d like six of. It was such fun reading and responding to all your comments. Pygmy goats was one of my very favorite answers! You’re braver than I am.

The most popular response was some variation on six days of vacation. Apparently we all need a break! There were also quite a few of you longing for six more days with someone you love who’s passed on. Shoot, that’s why I write books, so I can visit the “old folks” I grew up knowing who are gone now.

Several of you also wished for six more books (some even specified MY books–you’re the best!). And cups of coffee or tea not to mention chocolate.

But it was Pam K. with her cooler weather and a wish for six more sweaters to wear to work who ended up being the winner of a copy of novel #6! Congratulations Pam–email your mailing address to and I’ll get your book out to you.

Wish I could send you ALL this latest story, but even if you didn’t win I hope you get a chance to visit Thurmond, WV, with Colman and Serepta. And thanks for chiming in!

Releasing Book #5 – Giveaway

one week to go!I was astonished to see one book published. Now I’m about to see my fifth novel released to the world.

Well, at least a slice of the world!

One week from tomorrow is the official release date. I’ll be holding a launch party at Sassafras on Sutton–a charming bookstore in Black Mountain, NC–on Sunday, November 3. Here’s hoping readers like this latest story!

In honor of book #5 I thought I’d do a drawing for a signed copy. If you live in the United States you’re eligible to win. Just comment below with something you’d like to have one more of than I do books. So, six books, puppies, chocolate cupcakes, days of vacation–anything! I’ll draw a winner from everyone who enters by midnight (Eastern time) on Wednesday.

Good luck!

Appalachian Thursday – Cracking Nuts

cropped-gedc0010.jpgThe apples have fallen, the pumpkins are getting carved, and the leaves are turning orange and yellow and red. Must be time for the nut harvest! Of course, if we don’t hurry, the critters will beat us to it.

Growing up on the farm, we had walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts (hazelnuts). With walnuts, it was best to let nature dry the husk and expose the shell, which would still turn our hands black. Chestnuts could be removed from their prickly casing by pinching them between the soles of our boots and pushing them out. Hazelnuts we just let dry a bit and then whacked ’em but good with a hammer.

Mom probably made things using nuts, but mostly the pleasure was in just eating them straight from the shell. And eat them we did! Chestnuts in particular were an easy target and the crisp texture and flavor of that buttery, yellow nut was SO good. You can score them and roast them briefly to make them easy to peel, but we just bit ’em until the shell cracked.

Even here, on our little ole plot of land in NC, we have walnut trees (can’t plant tomatoes under them) and several hazelnut shrubs. But it’s a lot of work and not always worth it if the weather hasn’t been right or worms have gotten there first. So mostly Thistle and I sit inside the French doors and watch the squirrels feast. Their leavings streak the porch black when I go out to sweep them away.

But I kind of like that.

Reminds me of how God provides for squirrels and children growing up on a farm just the same. And how what he provides nourished my body back then and my heart and soul today.

A simple pie to make . . . once you crack and pick all those nuts!

3 farm-fresh eggs
2/3 cup of sugar
1 cup of white corn syrup
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1 cup of shelled hickory nuts
1 unbaked pie crust

Lightly beat the eggs then add sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and butter. Fold in the nuts. Pour into the pie shell and bake in a 375º F oven for 45 minutes.

Does the Dress Even Matter?

dressI’m a bit of a girly-girl. (When I’m not being a tomboy.) So when I realized it would work out for me to go to the Christy Awards dinner–which is semi-formal–I began looking for a fancy dress.

Oh, I have a dress that would work but who wants to settle for that?? There aren’t a ton of options for in-person shopping around here, so I started on-line. Ugh. Do dresses not have sleeves anymore? And they mostly seemed to be either thigh-high or floor-length. Too much or too little.

So I DID try some places in town. A bridal store, the mall, some department stores. Ick. This did NOT feel like shopping for that prom dress back in high school. And honestly, there’s only so much time I’m willing to waste, er, invest in the hunt. So I was about to settle for ordering a dress that was the equivalent of ordering a nice salad when I was hoping for a juicy steak.

But first, I tried one more place. It’s a shop that sells both new and vintage clothing. And there it was. From the 1960s. Older than I am! The perfect black, silk, cocktail dress with a wide, boat neck, lace sleeves, and jet beads. But would it fit . . . ??

Like it was made for me! The girl who helped zip me up said it had been waiting for me. It had even been marked down because it hadn’t fit anyone else. Sold.

So does the dress really matter? I was ready to say it didn’t. That the writing, the joy of the award nomination, the opportunity to spend time with writing friends–that’s what matters. And it does. But when I slipped on a dress from 50+ years ago that fit beautifully I realized that yes, the dress does matter. And there’s no such thing as a detail too small for God to pay attention.

Appalachian Thursday – Countdown to Release Day

Release Day 11-19I don’t do TOO much book peddling on this blog, but with the release of When Silence Sings in less than three weeks I thought I’d mention it. Yup, my next Appalachian story will hit shelves on November 5. Or earlier in some cases!

If you’d like to pre-order the book you can click on the cover image to the right. If you’d like to get a copy in person, you can come to my book launch celebration at the cutest bookstore in Western NC on November 3.

And if you’d like to know what the story’s about, here’s a snippet from an early review in Booklist – “Thomas brings to life a rugged yet faith-based Appalachian drama perilously situated in the crosshairs of feuding families. Set in 1930 West Virginia, this standalone novel draws on themes of mercy, understanding, and loving your neighbor amidst the dangers of lawless vengeance and moonshine runs.”

Well said!

While I’m not exactly going on tour with this new book, there are a couple of events coming up. I hope I’ll see you at one of them!

  • Book Launch – November 3 at 3 p.m. – Sassafras on Sutton in Black Mountain, NC
  • Reader’s Breakfast – November 6 at 9 a.m. – Fido in Nashville, TN.  Join writers Becky Wade, Lynette Eason, Kristi Ann Hunter, Connilyn Cossette, Sarah Loudin Thomas, Janet Ferguson (and maybe others) for breakfast and/or coffee! We’ll be traveling to Tennessee for the Christy Awards gala and would love to visit with some of our Nashville friends and readers while we’re there.
  • Book Signing – November 21 at 5:30 p.m. – Upshur County Public Library in Buckhannon, WV (my home town!)

It’s Autumn Somewhere

This happened last year, too. Summer lingered so long that the fall color didn’t really show up until November. I’m hoping that’s what happens this year because right now we’re still seeing lots of green with just a few hints of color.

And I LOVE autumn!

So, after a hectic weekend with little to no color and a HUGE special event at work, today’s post is a simple review of autumns past from West Virginia and North Carolina.

So how’s your area? Any fall color yet? Or are you in one of those states that skipped straight to snow?

Appalachian Thursday – Fairy Diddles

NOT a fairy diddle, but this little fellow volunteered to pose for me and he’s kin.

Fairy Diddles are alternately real woodland creatures or mythical rodents depending on who you ask. In West Virginia, they probably refer to small red squirrels but in North Carolina they’re more likely a Carolina northern flying squirrel.

Regardless, they’re fast, smaller than average, and make a lot of noise. One myth suggests that they raid the nests of other squirrels and castrate their young. (Yikes!) This may have something to do with the fact that they’re omnivorous and in addition to eating acorns and other nuts will also eat smaller rodents. Although perhaps not JUST, ahem, select parts. I sense a mountaineer with a colorful sense of humor came up with that one.

Mountaineers tell stories of “steer” squirrels created by this legendary castration. And some say fairy diddles themselves are of the “steer” variety. I’m pretty sure no naturalist or biologist has ever backed either assertion.

When we first moved to WNC we had a pair of fairy diddles living in the woods across the creek. They were adorably small and almost pink in color. After a few years we saw them no more. I can see how they would give rise to tall tales and myths. Perhaps I need to work a mythical fairy diddle into a story of my own . . .


Naming My Characters

Sarah Thomas (1)
There I am with the Thurmond, WV, depot behind me. Walking the same ground as Colman, Serepta, and my other characters.

One of my great joys in writing is naming my characters. I don’t have children and my brothers didn’t let me name any of my nieces or nephews so I’m left with naming my characters. Which is fine. There are more of them!

I particularly enjoyed naming the characters in When Silence Sings.

First, I needed the names of my two rival clans. I’ll confess I went a little obvious here since one of the most famous feuds was between the Hatfields and McCoys. So, I went with the Harpes and the McLeans. Some good Scots-Irish names that echo the originals.

Now, on to my main characters. Since my hero is a Jonah figure I did a little research and discovered that Jonah means “Dove.” Guess what Colman means in Irish? “Dove.” And in English it refers to someone who works with coal. Double winner!

Serepta is a name I stumbled across doing genealogical research for my family in French Creek, West Virginia. And I really liked it! Ironically, the name means, “peaceful,” which Serepta is NOT. But I like that contrast. Maybe she will be one day.

Jonah’s love interest is Ivy Gordon. Now, if you’re familiar with the story of Jonah you’ll know that once Jonah <reluctantly> finished his preaching in Ninevah he went outside the city and sulked under a vine. The Hebrew translation suggests that it was a gourd vine. So there you go–Ivy Gordon. Seemed like a better name than Kudzu.

Most of the other names were ones that simply seemed right to me. And I threw in a few actual names of historical figures from Thurmond, WV. Check out my author’s note at the end of the book if you’d like the story on those!

So how about you? What would you like to name the hero or heroine of your novel?



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